16 september 2013

Germany’s renewable energy experiment comes at a cost

By Chris Bryant in Frankfurt, Financial Times, September 16, 2013

In the idyllic southern Bavarian community of Wildpoldsried, 2,600 villagers are diligently playing their part in a bold experiment in German renewable energy generation, known as the Energiewende.

The shift away from nuclear power and fossil fuels is Germany’s most complex undertaking since reunification two decades ago. But with consumers complaining of rising energy bills and industry warning of a threat to competitiveness, whoever wins the German federal election on September 22 will face intense pressure for a rethink.

In Wildpoldsried, scores of homes and energy-efficient public buildings are bedecked with high-tech solar panels and many obtain their heat from a communal biomass plant. Wind turbines, financed by local residents, dot the surrounding hills and several farm buildings have adjacent biogas plants.

These and many similar projects produce roughly 500 per cent of Wildpoldsried’s energy requirements. Thanks to Germany’s renewable energy law (EEG), which prioritises wind and solar power over coal and gas, the surplus of electricity in Wildpoldsried – worth an annual €5m to the village – is delivered into the grid. This bill is footed by a surcharge added to German electricity bills.

In part due to the ecological ardour of villages like Wildpoldsried, renewable energy has been expanding more rapidly than envisaged. “I think people were surprised that the Energiewende is happening so fast,” says Günter Mögele, deputy mayor.

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